Monday, 19 August 2019

Another safari to south Lakeland and a Sandwich or two

The Safari has been out n about since our last post mostly trying to dodge the weather. We've done a couple of beachcombing and rockpooling events with family groups and of course spent hours staring at an empty sea for National Whale and Dolphin Watch. The latter did give us our record count of 11 Grey Seals in view at one time down at Starr Gate on the first morning, we also manged a distant pic of the 45 or so Sandwich Terns roosting well down the beach for our Photo Year List Challenge #157. 
The Sunday watch never happened due to torrential rain. Then the evening before our Wednesday watch we came across (or more accurately Monty's nose came across) a well dead Harbour Porpoise just before the tide came in to wash it off its resting place at the bottom of the sea wall. Unfortunately dead ones don't count on NWDW. Wednesday's watch was also cancelled, this time we'd been invited to accompany Wifey to attended Yorkshire Day celebrations (Heaven Forbid!!!) in Whitby where here works had sponsored the event. not long before we set off news of Bottlenose Dolphins between Barrow and Fleetwood broke - how annoying! But the journey over the moors near Kirkby Stephen did give us a Red Grouse sat on a roadside wall looking forlorn in the filthy mizzle. It would have looked even more forlorn if it knew it was likely to get blasted out of the sky in a few short weeks time. If you're not happy with the wildlife persecution, animal welfare issues and environmental degradation along with the blatant criminality associated with Driven Grouse Shooting then please sign this petition to have the issue debated in Parliament again and hopefully a lot better this time, it's only open to UK residents only though; others can sign this one.
Over on the east coast there was a thick sea mist reducing visibility to no more than a few hundred yards but on our short drive along the coast to our hotel we did sea both Gannets and Fulmars much closer than we ever do here on the west coast. 
While Whitby was great as ever and we were made to feel very welcome even though we were 'from the Dark Side' actually we though we'd GONE to the 'Dark Side' it was good to get back to the west coast.
Saturday's watch proved disappointingly fruitless on a flat calm sea apart from a couple of Grey Seals, similarly Sunday's watch helped by experienced cetacean surveyor SD was also sadly blubberless. 

The sea did throw up some surprises though, on our family events we came across three new species we've notseen on our coast before. The first we thought we'd found ourselves only to discover later it had been picked up and discarded by one of the young lads - the leg of a Spiny Crab.
Our next new species were also found by the youngsters, Chameleon Shrimps and a lovely juvenile Gurnard possibly a Tub or Grey Gurnard.
Photo by EF of the Lancs Wildlife Trust's Living Seas Team
And so to south Cumbria where we joined JG and AK for another wander round the private reserve to see what we could see. It was AK's first visit so we hoped it would be a good one. The drive through the reserve to the car park proved fruitful with a Roe Deer peacefully grazing away right beside the track.
Our first check on the snake areas was unsuccessful but wandering along the boardwalk and coming to the Moss a bird on the overhead wires caught our eye, checking it was 'just' a Tree Pipit revealed it wasn't it was a Whinchat and apparently quite a good record for the reserve.
Our best pic ever of a Whinchat but we can't add it to our PYLC as it's on a wire - darn that 'No hand of Man' rule
At the wee bridge a very quick Kingfisher flew almost over our heads and a mixed flock of small birds flitting around the scrub on the otherside of the bridge gave us juvenile Willow Warblers, Chiffchaffs and a cracking Wood Warbler, along with a couple of Blue and Great Tits. The rest of the trail around the Moss was fairly quiet although we did hear a distant Golden Plover calling from the fell tops away to our left and eagle eyed J spotted the tiniest of juvenile Common Lizards and an adult that had lost it's tail.
Back in the snakey area there were no snakes again. Now it was lunchtime and getting our butties from the cars we spotted this Southern Hawker flying around the far side of the car park.
What better way to spend a leisurely lunch-hour than watching the butterflies on the Buddleia and wildflowers in the garden over the wall from the visitor centre terrace and the male Osprey flying around with fish for his youngster.
The ubiquitous 2019 Painted Lady pic
After lunch we took a stroll through the woods down past the lake where we had a brief view of a blue dragonfly, almost definitely a Broad Bodied Chaser. At the pond we were well watched by another Southern Hawker and one of the several Common Darters perched briefly but not long enough for a quick pic on the top of J''s head. 
Beginning to run out of time we decided to head back and have another look for the snakes. On the way down the lane we began to notice lots of Dor Beetles on the tarmac, some obviously squished but some up upside down in varying states of disrepair as well as some very much alive and kicking. Their undersides are such a stunning blue.
Dor Beetle underside - Photo by JG
No joy again with the snakes but along the boardwalk several Common Lizards had come out to bask in the afternoon sunshine, flattening themselves against the base of the tree trunks to absorb maximum warmth.
We were hopeful that there might be an Adder or two out hunting them but it wasn't to be.
Checking some Bracken patches for said slitherers we disturbed numerous Grasshoppers

and watched a very small juvenile Common Lizard try to hunt down an ant which got away as it was too big for the lizard's tiny mouth to grab it.
At the edge of the moss we came across a stunningly bright female Black Darter
It was then we noticed that time had pushed on and it was time to head back to the cars - time really flies at this site it's that good even though it's not that big.
The drive back to Base Camp started with us spotting about 20 odd Red Deer mooching in a field with the local sheep down the hill just outside the reserve entrance.
So yet another superb safari to this wonderful reserve with great company even if we dipped the snakes. We'll be back before too long that's for sure.

At the end of last week we enjoyed brilliant naked eye views of a Harbour Porpoise happily feeding away on a flat calm sea only about a hundred yards off the seawall while walking Monty, why can't they make an appearance during NWDW so we can send back a sheet with a positive result on it for once.
Where to next? We've a safari planned with some friends later in the week and if they make it it might be their last chance of enjoying some greenery before they head off to work in sun-baked desert lands

In the meantime let us know who's slithering through your outback


Friday, 19 July 2019

We'll glossy over that one!

The Safari met up with JG at the private reserve in south Cumbria last week and had a great day which started somewhat umpromisingly with some heavy drizzle. We set off along the trail passing the 'Adder' wall' but no Adders today , the rain keeping them well down in their burrows, a nice male Redstart which did a little bit of singing described by J as 'like a wonky Chaffinch' and when it sang again we could hear why she would think that...great description!
The ditch was disappointingly devoid of any insects, or anything else for that matter and apart from a family of Tree Pipits the moss area was quiet too.
At the bridge there were no Beautiful Demoiselles to be seen and the trail became 'interesting' to say the least
If we weren't on the raised boardwalk that vegetation would look even taller! We completed the curcuit of the second moss area again seeing not a lot but at least the rain had stopped and it was trying to brighten up.
Back at 'Adder wall' there were still no Adders but on a dead stump a little further back J spotted athis pair of 4-Banded Longhorn Beetles.
A sleepy Comma was nearby showing its underwing and how it came by its name.
We'd also managed to get a half decent pic of some Sundew which we failed to do on our previous visit, better still it's in flower now.
By now it was getting towards lunchtime so we headed back to the butties and took up position on the visitor centre's patio overlooking the reserve and in particular the Osprey's nest. We'd only just gone through the gate when we noticed a stick in the middle of the path that wasn't there earlier...and then it moved - "Stop" we shouted to J, it was our first Grass Snake of the day but had seen us coming and was speeding towards cover
During our lunch break we enjoyed a small herd of four Red Deer grazing the woodland edge below us and watched the antics of the Ospreys, they have a chick and it looked like a male was bringing in a fish - how we missed a getting a pic of him carrying his 'torpedo' we don't know but we did. But it seems like this male was from a different nest as it was seen off by the resident birds and disappeared into the woods on the far side of the valley.
Ravens cronked and a Sparrowhawk soared but Buzzards were notably absent and that meant there was no sign of the local Honey Buzzards either.
The weather was brightening up nicely now so we had another look for the Adders - again without success but we did find a Grass Snake very much hidden from view in the long grass beyond the wall that gave just about the worst views of Grass Snake, or even any snake anywhere in the world, we've ever had so with the sun coming out we decided to go and have a look at the pond. it maybe wasn't quite as lively as we'd hoped but there was plenty to keep us occupied like these Black-and-Yellow Longhorn Beetles.
Most of the blue damselflies we could see closely enough to identify turned out to be Azure Damselflies and there were still a good number of Large Red Damselflies on the wing. Last time out the Common Darters hadn't emerged but today there were several patrolling the pond and basking around its edges when the sun broke through.
A Golden Ringed Dragonfly kept doing circuits of the wooded island in the middle of the pond and eventually sat up on a reed
There were also at least a couple of Black Darters over the water (and we'd seen one earlier on the moss) and we saw another dragonfly briefly that we're fairly certain was a Downy Emerald but it disappeared round the back of the island and we never saw it again.
Having spent an hour at the pond we headed back towards the visitor centre for yet another look for the Adders. We passed a basking Small Tortoiseshell but there were no Grass Snakes out on this stretch of wall
It flew off and went over the gate beating us to the Adder zone where it sat up on a leaf for another bask, shame the Adders didn't feel like basking out in the open too!
We took another wander across the moss where by now there were Common Lizards aplenty getting their share of the sunshine and soaking up warmth absorbed by the dark timbers of the boardwalk.
Another visiting naturalist told us he'd seen several Adders earlier - that would have been while we were having lunch probably) but by now there were very warm and very active so much less likely to be spotted.
With time no longer on our side we headed back towards the visitor centre when J called out "snake", she'd disturbed on the wall by the warden's house. It had disappeared into a gap in the stonework so we sat on the low garden wall opposite and waited. Sure enough after a few minutes a little face appeared.
We were able to cautiously move round to get a bit better light on it from a better angle and a little bit closer too.
And that ended our visit - or so we thought. As J rounded the corner to the car park she called "snake" again! Another Grass Snake. It saw us and tried to sneak off and that was when we realised it was going nowhere and stretching itself out so much and was actually stuck fast in the crack in the path.
Without further ado we gently teased it to the right where the crack was a little wider and after a couple of minutes it was free and shot off to the left and the dark corner it was trying to reach when we rudely sprang out upon it. We suppose we could have lifted it up once it was free and got the 'selfie' but with all the struggling and hissing it had been doing it was obviously very stressed and probably would have played and  'stunk' us and that's not what we wanted two minutes before getting in the car so we left it find somewhere dark and quiet to chill out.
Yet another great day at this great reserve, can't wait to get back there.

A warm evening found us walking on the beach with Wifey and Monty when we spotted several jellyfish. Looking around we came across a couple of Blue Jellyfish, a species we've not seen before despite many years of regular beachcombing all along this coast. It can give a sting like a bag full of  Nettles but you can't deny it's a beautiful thing.
There were several Lion's Mane Jellyfish too, now they will make you go OWWW if they sting you, apparently it can be very painful and they are best given a wide berth on the beach as the tentacles can be long and invisible on the sand.
Later in the week we were told of a small mammal trapping survey organised by the Royal Society of Biology, well we just had to book place.
We arrived and had a little walk around the site with Monty before meeting DW who took us to the first tranch of traps down by the saltmarsh which had caught several Wood Mice.
It's not a tick but something from the food or bedding placed in the trap
The second tranch had been placed in a more wooded area and here Bank Voles were order of the day. We evn got the opportunity to wrangle on from the trap, first time we'd done that since we were small mammal trapping in Israel in 1978, thankfully we didn't embarrass ourself. And the third tranch was again close to the saltmarsh and here a Common Shrew was captured. unfortunately it was getting rather hot and Monty was beginning to get uncomfortable so we had to leave the group to it with about 50 more traps to inspect.

With the recent good weather the moth trap has been out at Base Camp on a regular, almost nightly, basis but catches have been worryingly poor, mostly small numbers of Heart & Darts and Dark Arches with little else and hardly a micromoth seen apart from a few Chrysoteuchia culmellas.
Excitement hit unpercedented levels when we found this Pebble Hooktip in the trap - a species we've not recorded at Base Camp before.
The same trap held a corking Poplar Hawkmoth too - always a joy to see these gentle giants.
More excitement followed the next morning when we saw a small micro sat on the top of the egg boxes. Carefully we potted it up to discover after some searching through the field guide it was a Eucosoma campoliliana, another new species for Base Camp.
And the excitement didn't stop with the moths! While watching our bee hotel we saw a small skinny wasp that appeared to watching when the bees were coming and going and sure enough when it had seen a bee go in to a tube backwards to lay its egg and then leave it would sneak in to lay its own egg! This watching behaviour gaver us the chance to get a few decent pics and identify it as a Five-Spotted Club-Horned Wasp - no we'd never heard of it either but it transpired that according to the NBN Atlas this is the most northerly confirmed record in the country, beating the previous by a couple of miles!!! No doubt someone from a few miles up the road is going to say ah yes we get them in the garden all the time but hey-ho it's quite an accolade until such a thing happens!
A more or less empty moth trap the other morning had this rather beautiful but somewhat unwelcome visitor, a Candy Striped Spider. Needless to say it was evicted!
A family visit to the Southside at the weekend took us past Marshside RSPB reserve where a Glossy Ibis had been in residence for a couple of weeks or so. We had just five minutes to 'tick n run' and luckily it was out in the open and not too far away. It had its beak out but as soon as we put the camera to the screen window it tucked it away and promptly went to sleep. the chap next to us said "well that's that for an hour or so" so we had to make do with pic of it snoozing for our Photo Year List Challenge which now stands at 156.
Interesting that we've seen one here in three of the last four years, is it the same one? I don't think they breed in Britain yet but could be wrong, if they do it'll still only be in very small numbers or just a single pair in any one year. 

Recently we worked with our favourite school group, from the Midlands, on the beach and they had some super finds
A lump of pyroclasic flow, a Curved Razor and a Barnacle encrusted Mussel
Mermaid's Purse from a Thornback Ray
Striped Venus, Pod Razor, Common Otter Shell
Iceland Cyrpine, Pod Razor, Bean Razor, Tellins, Mussels, Banded Wedge Shells
But we hit the jackpot when we found this Limpet. Nothing special about Limpets you might say and you'd be right they can be as common as muck but not on Blackpool's coastline they're not. We'd had a quick look to check the lie of the land before the children arrived and been lucky enough to find Blackpool's only Limpet in it's usual place close to and now just south of where the old storm water pipe used to go out to sea. It's bee na while since we last found it and today it was in more or less the same place so we're assuming it is the same one and we couldn't find any just to the north of the storm water overflow where we've seen it before so we think it probably is the same one. 
But the one in the pic is a new one - a second individual and it was found 100 yards or more north of the other on the north side of the slipway, never seen one that side before...and that begs the question how many more are there???
With this pic we've just doubled the local Limpet population
Great days on safari and as often as not you don't have to go too far to see some awesome wildlife.

Where to next? The Big Butterfly Count has started and National Whale and Dolphin Watch starts next weekend so we're going to be busy - Watch this space - Better still Get Involved

In the meantime let us know who's watching who in your outback

Tuesday, 9 July 2019

It's been a while but we're still here

The Safari has been busy out in the outback and mostly enjoying decent weather so putting finger to keyboard has rather taken a backseat in recent weeks.
We had a very good May for our Photo Year List Challenge but really struggled in June - what will July bring?
In May we added the following
Sedge Warbler
Reed Warbler
Swift
A long way off but if you can tell what it is we can count it
Common Sandpiper
Grasshopper Warbler - showing rather well for a refreshing change
Dunlin
Cattle Egret
House Martin
Common Tern
Whimbrel
Spotted Redshank - the first summer plumaged one we've seen for a very long time
Red Legged Partridge - would rather have had a photo of the Quail we only heard rather than this released refugee from the shooting season
Lesser Whitethroat
Pied Flycatcher
Tree Pipit
Garden Warbler
Redstart
Hooded Crow
Stilt Sandpiper - one we weren't expecting in a million years!
Black Necked Grebe
Grey Plover
Iberian Chiffchaff
Bar Tailed Godwit
Arctic Tern
Not a bad haul...but then came June...
Osprey - dreadful and needs replacing ASAP
Spotted Flycatcher (PYLC #155)
So by the end of June we'd photographed 155 species of the 169 on our 'normal' year list which is a commendable 91.7%

We've seen some other great wildlife too.
The Painted Lady invasion reached our local park last week
And we were surprised to find this gorgeous Black Tailed Skimmer there, the first record for the site.
The White Letter Hairstreaks are our main target there in mid-summer but so far this year they've played hard-to-get only staying high in the top of their favourite Sycamore tree
A couple of safaris up to south Lakeland  have produced quality invertebtates, mammals and reptiles
Golden Ringed Dragonfly
(Barred) Grass Snake
Red Deer
Adder
Black Spotted Longhorn Beetle
Green Hairstreak
Speckled Yellow moth
A quick but unsuccessful visit yesterday to the local park to look for the White Letter Hairstreaks again  did give us this splendid male Emperor
Base Camp has been a little too quiet for insects this summer, worryingly so. But we did have an old 'Bee Hotel' which fell apart and a quick refurb with saw, glue and screws saw it quickly in use by at least three species of bees (we've no idea which) - job done - - RESULT - - - Happy Days!
Moth trapping too has been singularly unsuccessful with very numbers of very few species coming to the trap and very worryingly hardly any micros at all unlike last year - where are they all? Here's a selection of some recent ones that aren't Heart & Darts or Dark Arches
The Flame
Lychnis - looking a bit worse for wear
Mint Moth
And finally my fave wee beastie of the summer so far - but perhaps only because we've hardly seen any Ruby Tailed Wasps and not managed a photograph yet. Is that being a bit mean to this lovely Zebra Jumping Spider?


Where to next? Another adventure to south Lakeland is planned for later this week, fingers crossed the weather holds out. 

In the meantime let us know who's jumping around your outback